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Archaeo News 

19 February 2007
Winds ravage Neolithic village in Chile

Deep within the wind-swept Atacama desert in northern Chile, the remnants of a forgotten civilisation rise from the sand. Where the sand has been stripped away, circular clay structures can be clearly seen. These are the 3,000-year-old remains of Tulor, one of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic villages in South America. The ruins consist of low two-room houses, a cemetery and stables. They were inhabited as far back as 800 BCE.
     Archeologists say Tulor's inhabitants raised cattle, grew maize by the side of a river and had trading relationships with communities as far away as present-day Ecuador and Brazil. But a natural climate change around 300 CE caused the river dried up and within a few hundred years, the village was abandoned. Once deserted, the sand moved in. It covered the village in dunes, protecting it for nearly three millennia until it was discovered and partially unearthed in 1958. But now, half a century later, the sand that once protected the village is destroying it. Harsh desert winds and occasional rain are threatening to reduce the site to nothing.
     "We are losing an average of three centimetres (from the top of the walls) a year," says local archaeologist Ana Maria Baron. "In 100 years, we will have little more than a ledge." The loss would be significant, Baron says. "I have studied many Neolithic sites from around the world," she said. "I believe, at least from photographs, that the village of Tulor is the best preserved Neolithic village on this planet."
     The World Monument Fund (WMF), a nonprofit organisation that surveys important archeological finds around the world, says no conservation work has taken place in Tulor in over 20 years. The erosion is so serious that the Fund placed Tulor on its watch list of endangered sites last year.
     Since 1998, the village has been managed by an indigenous community in Coyo, 2 kms from the ruins, which has built a protective boardwalk around them and trained guides to lead tourists without causing further damage.are of her." The community says it needs more money to stop the erosion and has appealed to Chile's Council of National Monuments. But the state-funded council, while recognising Tulor as a heritage site, says it cannot help. "There just isn't the money," spokeswoman Susana Simonetti said. "It's as simple as that." Those campaigning to save the site say the local communities of Coyo and San Pedro de Atacama depend on the income generated by Tulor's visitors.
     Baron says a wall is the best way to protect the site and is working with a local architect to get one built. The wall would funnel the wind over the top of the ruins, reducing erosion. Tarps could be attached to the wall to cover the site during rainfall, she says.

Sources: The Sydney Morning Herald, Reuters (12 February 2007)

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